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Richard Riakporhe’s Rise: From Near Death to Selhurst Park Dream World Title Fight Against Chris Billam-Smith

Richard Riakporhe's Journey to Selhurst Park Title Fight

Watch Chris Billam-Smith defend his WBO cruiserweight world championship against Richard Riakporhe at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, June 15. Light-heavyweight stars Ben Whittaker and Dan Azeez feature on the undercard.

Selhurst Park is only a few miles from the Aylesbury Estate in south London, where Richard Riakporhe grew up. But Riakporhe has come a long way to reach this point when, on Saturday, he fights for a world title at the Crystal Palace ground. To challenge for the WBO championship this weekend, live on Sky Sports, at the stadium of the football club he supports, in a rematch against British rival Chris Billam-Smith, is the stuff of dreams.

It marks the culmination of a journey that he almost didn’t get to start. When he was just 15, Riakporhe was the victim of a stabbing that he was lucky to survive. He still bears the scar from that brush with death. It’s a reminder now of how he changed his whole life. “I came off the streets straight into the boxing gym,” he told Sky Sports. “I came through the hard way. I learned like a true apprentice.”

The Lynn, the oldest boxing club in the country and an institution in southeast London, set him on that new path. “I fell in love with the sport. It gave me purpose, it gave me drive, it gave me something to do, kept me out of a lot of trouble, and before you know it, I was actually competing for amateur championships,” Riakporhe said.

“I said, you know what, I want to pursue my passion, and my passion was boxing. I just felt like it was perfect for me and who I am as a human being. I’m very ambitious. I always wanted to work towards something in my life, and it just matched everything.” He didn’t even realize he had a unique quality that would subsequently mark him out as a professional – his fearsome punch power.

In his first amateur bout, he hesitated. He backpedaled. “I didn’t want to get hit. I always believed as an amateur that everybody possessed the same power that I did. I thought it was normal to be able to punch like that. I didn’t want to get hit with that type of power, so I was just always moving, and then when I landed my shots, the fight was over. I knocked him out in the first round,” Riakporhe recalled.

“It was a run of KOs. I remember going into the championships and knocking out everybody to get to the finals. I was known for being a big puncher from way back then.”

Billam-Smith, on his quest to avenge his only career defeat against Riakporhe, believes he can turn the Londoner’s power-punching into a weakness. He thinks Riakporhe relies too much on that power, waiting for a knockout and giving up rounds. That Billam-Smith fully intends to exploit. Riakporhe naturally rejected that notion. “That’s complete nonsense,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether I’m being lazy or not, whether I’m winning the rounds or not. There are fights that I’ve been in where I didn’t come with the intention to win the rounds. I just wanted the knockout.

“I’ve hit so many people that I know that when I land my shots, I will cause a lot of damage, even if they don’t get knocked out.”

He did acknowledge: “It’s a blessing to have a skill like that, but it can be a curse at the same time. It can make you a bit lazy.

“I’ve gone back to the gym, and I’ve rectified that laziness, and that’s what makes me even more dangerous now.”

This fight will be Riakporhe’s first attempt to win a world title, but he has beaten Billam-Smith before. “He has to rectify the loss. He has to get one back,” the Londoner said. “He can’t live with his own failure, and that’s the blemish on his record to me.

“Because guess what, it’s actually brought him back full circle to me.

“So what does that mean? Have you really progressed? Because if you’d really progressed, you wouldn’t be having to see the ‘Midnight Train’ once again. But we’re back here.”

He added: “I’m not giving ‘The Gentleman’ no more chance. There’s not going to be no trilogy. This fight is where it ends. I’ll do it again, and that’s it. There’ll be no third chance for him.”

For Riakporhe, winning this fight “would mean everything.” “Because we had a goal, and the goal was to become world champion and to move on from there. I never thought that I would be able to perform on the ground of my favorite football team. Just to be able to represent Crystal Palace was enough for me. That done it for me. For them to entrust me with their brand, what they represent, as a fellow south Londoner, that is very humbling, very humbling for me,” he said.

“I will do everything to make sure I bring that title, not only to win it for myself but also to bring hope to everybody in south London. Everybody has their individual fights, things that they’re going through that nobody knows, just to be a kind of reference to them.

“Like if I can do it coming from my background, all the things that I had to overcome, being stabbed when I was 15, nearly dying, being a product of my environment, being able to make it out, everything was always a fight, and I just want to be that kind of reference to them. That I’m one of you. I’m no superstar.

“I’m just a normal guy. A normal working-class guy that just had dreams and was ambitious, and I made something of myself.

“You can also do the same too.”

Credit: Sky Sports

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